• Last modified 943 days ago (Dec. 14, 2016)


Another Day in the Country

Dodging the Christmas cactus

© Another Day in the Country

My Aunt Anna had a huge Christmas cactus. Knowing I liked gardening and had a ‘green thumb,’ several times she graciously offered me a start off of that cactus.

Every time I managed to graciously decline. I could not for the life of me understand the charm of a Christmas cactus.

First of all, they were a cactus! Second, they only bloomed once a year, which meant they sat around needing some level of care and attention for 11 months, and then maybe, or maybe not, they’d decide to bloom during the Christmas season.

It seemed to be a test of your tenacity, your loyalty to planthood, your patience, to be the owner of a Christmas cactus. When that cactus finally bloomed for you it was like being crowned Mrs. U.S.A. or Woman of the Year! Not everyone could nurture a cactus, even though most people who owned them were women and married to men.

Here I am, almost 80, I’ve dodged being the owner of a Christmas cactus all these years, and suddenly, out of the blue, a friend presents me with one — at the Health Club of all things.

How could I explain my aversion to the breed while pedaling away on my stationary bike? She and her husband were coming for dinner that weekend,

“I wanted to give it to you in advance,” she said, “so you could enjoy it longer.”

This was a sweet gesture. She knew I would be heading for California and my nanny duties soon. This cactus was covered with buds and obviously just starting its shelf life and she wanted me to be able to watch “The Wonder of the Christmas Cactus” unfold.

I brought the cactus home and sat it on the counter.

I paced around it like it was the enemy, viewing it from all sides. Where should I put it?

“You are now the owner of a Christmas cactus, patwick,” I said to myself. “Now what?”

Well, I figure we should all be open to new Christmas experiences, eh? This is the time of year for us to practice our graciousness, because we know that unusual things are sure to happen in the middle of all this togetherness and cheer.

I remember the year that a suitor of my sister gave her a bread machine for Christmas. We all looked at each other (and not at him) thinking, “A bread machine for Jess? She’s the best pastry chef we all knew and she would never use a bread machine. What was he thinking?” As it turned out he was thinking about someone else he knew and he didn’t last long.

One year I went to one of those parties where you bring gifts that cost around 10 bucks, people draw names and take a gift, and then the next person can either take yours or take something unknown from under the tree.

I really dislike those kinds of exchanges because I always come away with the strangest of all presents and the little girl in me, who usually loves gift giving and surprises, feels cheated.

“A hot pad and a dish rag? And an ugly one at that! Really, folks, that’s the best you could do for $10?”

Our Canadian hunters bring some kind of Italian fruitcake to us every year. They must bring cases, because they give them to everyone and if there are extra, they leave them with us.

When we first got several we tried a loaf, found it unusual, and then tried giving them away.

“Anyone like this kind of pastry?” we asked friends.

This bread was not quite sweet, not quite plain, we didn’t know what to do with it. The hunters loved dunking it in coffee, but we weren’t really dunkers.

Then we started declining the cakes.

“We don’t eat much bread, anymore,” we said smiling, which was true; and we’d run out of people to re-gift it to.

This year, I’ve been on a peanut brittle kick, having found an easy way to make that delicious candy in the microwave. I took our hunters some and as I left, Mario called,

“Here, you have to take one of our fruitcakes,” so I did. Fair enough.

“Let’s take it to, Janet,” we said, “maybe she’ll know what to do with it!”

As we talked with our cousin about the bread, the idea of French toast came up, so we brought half the loaf back home and tried it. It was delicious. It seemed like some kind of moral victory to figure out what to do with an unfamiliar gift.

By the way, my new Christmas cactus is blooming like mad with this truly unusual blossom that looks like flowers just keep unfolding from inside the first one, like a party trick. Wouldn’t it be funny if I became a Christmas cactus fan on another day in the country?

Last modified Dec. 14, 2016